The beautiful effect

The upcoming football World Cup has accelerated urban development in South Africa and helped kick-start a range of local initiatives, despite Fifa’s tight grip on the official branding. Lynda Relph-Knight looks at how some of the cities that are hosting games are presenting themselves to visitors

When I fly back to South Africa I always wait for that smile – and I get it.’ This, says Nathan Reddy, founder of Johannesburg consultancy Grid, is what sets his homeland apart from other nations and what 2010 Fifa World Cup visitors can expect. ’It is in us to be welcoming,’ he says.
This trait underpins the national branding projects for which Grid is renowned. It boasts Brand South Africa and Airports Company South Africa among a portfolio of more commercial clients, and it is branding for those two that will help to shape visitors’ perception of the cities hosting the games during the World Cup.

Superb imagery commissioned from various photographers reinforce Grid’s nation branding. Meanwhile, clear information design, featuring colour-coded elements and Bliss typeface, and installations at each Acsa airport – a Table Mountain-shaped exhibition pod at Cape Town, for example – will explain indigenous cultural characteristics to air travellers.

But while these projects put Grid in the frame for official World Cup work – it was shortlisted in the Fifa branding pitch won by Switch – neither was sparked by South Africa’s successful bid for the tournament. Both were born of a broader need for national coherence. The World Cup has ’accelerated’ the work though, as it has other local schemes. ’There is an urgency,’ says Reddy, citing the landscaping of Durban’s seafront as an example of World Cup fervour.

It is a different story across town at Switch, where Gaby De Abreu created the branding for 2010. Switch has been flat out on the branding and collateral for the World Cup, as has Joe Public on the website. ’It’s not the edgiest work I’ve done,’ says De Abreu of a logo featuring traditional rock art, the colours of Africa and the African continent. ’But it had a story because of my first-hand knowledge and passion [for football and South Africa].

But while official World Cup work has been elusive for most local creatives, sponsorship has yielded lucrative spin-offs. For Veejay Archary, founder of Johannesburg consultancy Black, the Fifa pitch led to work for banking sponsor Absa on South Africa’s training kit. Switch’s success, meanwhile, led to contact with African telecoms giant MTN, a core sponsor, and a host of related projects. At Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport, you can’t miss Switch’s bright yellow MTN promotions bearing the cheery ’Y’ello’ welcome.

Then there is city branding. Fifa insisted on city authorities rethinking their branding to accommodate its requirements, resulting in creative work. What happens after the World Cup remains to be seen, but some projects will live on.

Working with the City of Johannesburg, for example, information design specialist Moja has created maps for Johannesburg to help fans find their way to and around the city’s two stadiums and identify transport systems and ’visitor-friendly’ areas within the city – a vital legacy for a city as impenetrable to outsiders as Johannesburg is reputed to be.

These local campaigns blatantly flout the notion of Brand South Africa. Take Johannesburg’s edgy ’You make Joburg great’ by Penquin International, which launched ’underground’ last November and for which the city admitted ownership in February. Gavin Reed of the City of Johannesburg says the World Cup ’was a factor’ in this bid to unite the city and the look and feel of the campaign was approved by Fifa. The overall aim, he adds, is to keep Johannesburg ’as distinctive as possible’, and it is unlikely, given inter-city rivalry in South Africa, that Johannesburg is alone in this approach.

Meanwhile, Wayne Harper of the British Council in Johannesburg says his team hasn’t allocated extra resources to World Cup activities and plans no design-led events. He says football-related cultural activities for cities hosting World Cup matches have been curtailed by Fifa as it doesn’t want to be upstaged.

The consensus is that though the World Cup has created momentum for urban development in South Africa that has been going on for ten years – transport and stadiums, for example – Fifa’s rules and policing have constrained its effect on branding. But, argues Zahira Asmal of Designing South Africa, a project to define and share the World Cup’s creative legacy, ’It has mobilised people in South Africa to kick-start initiatives in the way [achieving] democracy should have done.’

Fifa itself has added to this mobilisation with the Grassroots Soccer programme to increase Aids-awareness among young people and the Dreamfields Project to promote education for less advantaged communities through football.

And while Archary maintains the impact of the tournament on South Africa’s creatives has been slow, he says its potential to create social cohesion is inestimable. ’Football has a wide appeal,’ he says. ’We are looking for it to do what the 1997 Rugby World Cup did for South Africa – to create hope.’ If you have seen Clint Eastwood’s movie Invictus on Nelson Mandela’s influence over that event you can only applaud that sentiment.

For more on the branding of this year’s Fifa World Cup click here

Latest articles